Vin dug around in the refrigerator. Although his arm still twinged when he moved the wrong way, he wasn’t so short of breath all the time. He’d been shirking his duties around the house long enough. It was time to cook.
He found what he was hoping for on the bottom shelf – four T-bone steaks. Perfect. He took them out of the packages and put them on a plate, with a glance over his shoulder to make sure Suzie wasn’t around. She had a hard time sharing her kitchen. Now and then she’d go off the deep end with no warning. He shrugged it off, putting it down to her gender.
With the grilling tongs and spatula dangling from his fingers by leather thongs, he carried the plate of steak into the back yard.
He might not be much of a cook, but he knew how to grill. Tonight he’d show them how steak was meant to be eaten. Next week he’s do beer-soaked brats. He’d leave the soufflés to Suzie.
Foil wrapped potatoes were already on the grill, sitting at just the right height from the gently flaming briquettes. Perfect. He gave the briquettes on the other side of the grill a slash of lighter fluid, then tossed the meat into the wires and enjoyed the sizzle.
“Vin! What are you doing?”
“Hey, Miranda.” He transferred the spatula to his bad side before pulling her close for a quick kiss. She struggled out of his grip, but didn’t yell at him or hit him. He counted that as progress. “You’re home just in time.”
“Oh yeah?” She eyed the nearly-raw steaks dubiously.
“I need someone to run out and get the beer.”
“Oh.” She sounded disappointed. “Beer? What do you need that for?”
“What do you mean what do I need it for? It’s for dinner.” He waved at the steaks and potatoes, fully expecting that to be all the explanation necessary.
Her mouth opened and her forehead wrinkled in that I’m-about-to-argue-until-you-go-cross-eyed way of hers. Vin felt himself tensing. Before she unleashed whatever was on her mind, Suzie drove up in a late model economy car, one that wasn’t anything like her car.
“Hey guys! Look what the repair shop loaned me. We won’t have to scratch our plans for tonight after all. Where’s Drew?” She looked around for the man in question AFTER blabbing something he shouldn’t hear.
She must be excited about it. She wasn’t usually the type to blab. Miranda, on the other hand…. … was poking at his steaks with his fork. He snatched the tool away from her in a cross handed-grab that made his chest twinge.
“Drew’s out investigating.”
“Oh,” both women said with clear disappointment. He felt the same disappointment in Drew for excluding them all from his efforts to nail the guys who shot him.
“He said he’d be back by supper.”
They exchanged wary glances.
“Do you think he’ll notice when we sneak out?” Miranda asked.
“I’m sure he will. We haven’t gotten anything over him yet,” Suzie said. She pulled up a heavy, metal lawn chair to lean against, and glanced around the back yard. “Vin, are you sure you should be outside? What if one of the red heads came back here?”
Vin assessed the terrain. The patch of lawn wasn’t very large – maybe ten feet by fifteen up against the house. A little further back was a postage stamp sized kitchen garden choked with weeds. Suzie hadn’t had much time to tend it since he, Miranda, and Drew moved in. The wall of Suzie’s garage protected one side. The backside of the neighbor’s carport blocked the other side. Along the backside was a privacy fence belonging to the house facing the next street over. Between were gaps where someone could pop through at random and there were windows in the neighboring houses from which a sniper could take him down, but the feeling of the yard was protected, and the grill was set so he had his back to the house so I could see anyone coming.
“I’ll risk it.”
“I don’t think you should,” Miranda said. She put a hand on his shoulder, light as a butterfly, as if afraid she might hurt him.
Did she think him a wimp? He hadn’t been feeling very manly the last few days, but he wasn’t dead weight, and he intended to prove it.
“Steaks aren’t done. When they are, I’ll come in.” He would have dragged her in for a kiss, reminding her he still had what it takes to please a woman, if Suzie wasn’t standing there looking concerned.
“But they could come anytime.”
“I’m ready for them.” He lifted the back of his Hawaiian shirt so she could see the gun holstered at his back.
“You’re packing heat?” If anything, Miranda seemed even more upset. But how else did she expect him to protect himself and the woman he loved?
“Of course I am. I’m not a complete idiot.”
“No, just a partial one,” She snapped. “You think a gun is going to keep you alive if Sean or Joseph decides to come finish what they started? You’ve been out of the hospital what, two? Three weeks? Damn you!” She got up in his face and screeched at him. “You WANT to get killed, don’t you. If you get yourself killed then you don’t have to….”
“Miranda! That is enough.” Suzie’s voice surprised them both like the crack of a whip in the hands of at two year old.
Miranda backpedaled fast. Her face drained of color. “I’m… I’m sorry. I’m having a bad day. I tried to get a video for us to watch tonight and….” Miranda’s voice drifted into nothing.
“It’s Ok.” Suzie crossed from the patio chair to Miranda, arms out for a hug, but Vin glowered at her until she stopped.
He took Miranda in hand himself. Literally. He put the fork and spatula down on the grill’s little wooden deck, and pulled Miranda into his arms the way he’d wanted to before.
He petted her hair, murmuring nonsense words about how everything would be just fine, and kept it up until she relaxed in his arms. Then he leaned in, turning his lips to her ear, and whispered a suggestion about what they should do around bedtime. Miranda sniffled, smiled, and nodded.
Just in time too, because the steaks almost burned while he wasn’t tending them.
Shaking her head in disbelief, though Vin didn’t know what she had to be so surprised about, Suzie went into the house. “I’ll set the table.”
“I’ll… I’ll help.” Miranda quickly followed her in.
As soon as they were gone Vin glanced around the yard again. He hadn’t felt vulnerable when no one was home, but he did now.